Housing SEPP GFA Definition Change - More Floor Space for Seniors Housing!

A new definition of gross floor area has landed and it is good news for the retirement and aged care industry.

A new updated definition of Gross Floor Area (GFA) for seniors housing within Part 5 of State Environmental Planning Policy (Housing) 2021 (Housing SEPP) commenced August 18th 2023 and can be found here (page 27). This update provides much-needed certainty and is a positive step for the industry's growth. It is planning reform that Ethos Urban is proud to have led in directly advocating for an emergency housekeeping amendment and then liaising with the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) on the best approach.

How did this issue come about?

The catalyst to the change in the GFA definition was the assessment of an Ethos Urban seniors housing State Significant Development Application (SSDA), where DPE formed a position that the former GFA definition within the Housing SEPP for seniors housing (section 82) was not applicable. Consequently, DPE’s position was that the GFA definition from the Standard Instrument Local Environmental Plan (LEP) must then be applied to all seniors housing developments.

This position by DPE, whilst understandable based on a legal reading of the SEPP, is contrary to the purpose of having a seniors housing-specific GFA definition. It has also created uncertainty and temporarily halted the progress of many SSDAs both under assessment and in the pre-lodgement stage, thereby slowing the delivery of critical housing.

What is the solution?

In response, Ethos Urban has been advocating for an emergency Housekeeping Amendment to the Housing SEPP to ensure the GFA definition for seniors housing is clear, achieves its planning purpose and is beyond any legal doubt. Further, this GFA definition amendment we believe presented a unique opportunity to not only clarify the GFA definition but also to improve it with the ultimate goal being to support housing supply and reduce planning complexity for the seniors housing industry.

To this end, Ethos Urban provided various options to the DPE Housing Policy team to ensure that seniors housing is not disadvantaged compared to other residential developments when calculating GFA. We also sought to make logical sense of the GFA exclusions that have been instrumental in fostering growth in the retirement and aged care industry.

The DPE Housing Policy team has embraced our recommendations and formed a new GFA definition. This tailored definition combines the GFA exclusions available under the Standard Instrument GFA definition with seniors housing-specific exclusions from the current Housing SEPP definition and refined wording for clarity where needed.

The new GFA definition promises to deliver several key benefits:

  1. Seniors housing gains access to GFA exclusions for the first time, including common vertical circulation and voids.
  2. Existing GFA exclusions for seniors housing, such as services in the basement of a residential care facility and ancillary storage, continue to apply.
  3. Ambiguity will be eliminated by clearly defining that services below ground level of a residential care facility are excluded from GFA when the level is defined as a "basement."
  4. All parking is excluded from GFA, including spaces exceeding the minimum standards of the Housing SEPP (contrary to DPE's previous position).
  5. The GFA definition for seniors housing aligning with how GFA is calculated for all other developments in NSW, not only standardising the GFA definition but also incorporating additional senior housing-specific exclusions.
  6. The new GFA definition will apply retrospectively to all seniors housing applications currently under assessment but not determined.

We consider these changes to the definition of GFA to be the best of both worlds in terms of inclusions / exclusions and would like to thank the DPE Housing Policy team for its urgency in fixing this issue. We are proud to have not only assisted our clients in facilitating planning policy change mid-SSDA assessment but also contributed to the long-term health of the retirement and aged care industry.  If you have any questions or would like to discuss this matter further, please do not hesitate to directly contact Daniel West, our Director of Planning and seniors living specialist, at dwest@ethosurban.com or P) 0411570394.